How this jet-setting developer became Toronto's top Director of Software Engineering

September 9, 2015 The Architech Team

Our Director of Engineering, Victor Szoltysek, brings 12 years of mentorship, consulting, and exceptional engineering experience to the Architech team. But he’s also our go-to person for risk-taking, minimalist approaches, and world-class travel hacks. If you want to know how to create elegant software solutions and tour Kuwait in the equivalent of a single workday, we’d like to introduce you to our expert on the ground.

You’re joining Architech after three straight years of living out of a suitcase. What was that like?

Have you seen Up in the Air with George Clooney? It was like that. At my previous company we had so much work in the U.S., so I lived in San Francisco, L.A., Dallas, Houston, Seattle, and Chicago in six-month increments. It was definitely different.

Any favourite town in particular?

Seattle. You have the mountains, you’re downtown, there’s a big tech industry. And this is going to sound dorky, but there was a Whole Foods next door to my place and it was the only one I’ve found where you could go to the meat section and order anything and they’d grill it for you on the spot.

That sounds pretty great actually. So what made you decide to leave the keys in the jet and seek a more permanent position?

One of the downsides to that life is you’re changing friends every six months. It’s harder to form lasting relationships like that. I don’t like this term, but I felt like it was time to settle down.

Do you miss any part of that lifestyle? There must have been some adventures.

For sure. Many weekends I wouldn’t travel home, I’d just find ridiculous places to go. I remember one year I miscalculated my points and I needed to accumulate 10,000 by the end of the month. I pulled up google.com/flights, plugged in Chicago and asked what’s the furthest I can go for a weekend on my budget? I ended up in Kuwait for 16 hours. I spent more time in Frankfurt where I had my connecting flight, and when I got there I ended up sleeping eight hours anyway.

Oh yeah? What’s “Victor’s Guide to Kuwait in 8 Hours”?

Even though it’s a really expensive place to live, I lucked out with my hotel. I think I paid $100 worth of points for the JW Marriott. I had my own driver pick me up from the airport and when I got to the hotel I was upgraded to a two-bedroom, two-bathroom, marble-everything suite. I slept in one bed and halfway through the night I got up and moved to another bed. It was December so many things were closed, but I visited their iconic Kuwait Towers. Really I just wandered around for eight hours, going to the malls (it’s a big part of the culture there), experiencing the local food, meeting new people, and taking random pictures. Then I flew back.

Most people probably wouldn’t associate these kinds of experiences with a career in technology and it’s probably not even what you imagined as a kid.

Definitely not!

Actually, we’re just assuming you were interested in tech from a young age. How did your interest actually emerge?

This one’s a geeky story, too. When my parents came to Toronto from Poland it was a typical immigrant life where you need to stretch every dollar, so they often took advantage of free “babysitting” by depositing me at the local library while my mother went shopping. So what do you do at the library? I read…a lot. I started with the Hardy Boys, then Choose Your Own Adventure, and after I tore through the entire youth section I ventured into non-fiction. One of the first titles I picked up was Making Your Own Video Games in Basic and from that moment I was hooked. I’m grateful to my parents because their improvised childcare decision not only fostered my love of reading, it also led me to the book that changed my life.

How did you make it happen?

I took Computer Science at York University then I started working in Toronto. By 24, I wasn’t happy with my job and there were a bunch of other things that weren’t working out: My girlfriend moved back to Germany, my car broke down and I had one of those “Is this my life?” moments. This is when things were really booming in Calgary, so on an impulse I sold my car and bought a one-way ticket west. I didn’t have a job and I didn’t know a single person. I intentionally jumped in head-first without a second thought because I knew if I started analyzing too much I would make rationalizations and not commit 100% to my decision. But I’ve always been a positive person and trusted things would turn out. I landed at the Calgary airport at 9 a.m. with no idea where I was even going to stay that night. I had one suitcase and a suit for interviews. The move ended up being the best decision I’ve ever made. I spent the last nine years there.

Now you’re back in Toronto at Architech with the opportunity to create innovative solutions. What attracted you to the company?

I love smaller, fast-growing companies like this because it’s easier to make an impact. I’ve had experience working for companies that range from start-ups to banks and there’s nothing more frustrating than having great ideas, motivation, and incentive, but being held back by unnecessary bureaucratic process. At a large company you start to feel like a cog in a wheel. Here, it’s the opposite.

What do you think it is about the Architech culture that works?

There’s a malleability that I like, and more of an emphasis here on growing people than I’ve found at most companies. Whether it’s our Company Day, leadership training, or involvement in the greater community, I see we’re really trying to make it more than a 9-5 job. From a personal perspective, I’m going out to Poland again this month to hire developers for our Kraków office and just this opportunity to see a new office grow from scratch is enormously satisfying. You don’t get these opportunities often.

Is there anything we’re doing that you haven’t seen at other companies?

As a professional services company we have this awesome differentiator with all the exciting things we’re doing in the IoT, deep learning, and R&D space through our Labs. It’s a great wedge to getting ourselves out there through our brilliant researchers and PhDs.

What does being a leader at Architech mean to you?

Definitely leading by example. Less telling and more doing. Growing our people means a lot to me, too. I love mentoring, finding smart people who are willing to grow and taking them to the next level. I’m already seeing a lot people here who can turn into star performers.

Why should people be excited to work at Architech?

Besides the Labs, I like the culture of autonomy and start-up atmosphere we’ve created here as opposed to your more typical corporate environment. We’re trying to encourage innovation, modern practices, and the ability to work with really smart people.

What leadership philosophies are you bringing to the company?

A smart person solves a problem while a clever person avoids the problem altogether. A lot of people tackle problems by coming up with Band-aid solutions instead of taking a step back and eliminating the problem in the first place. Also from my travels, I have a very minimalist lifestyle, which applies to my driving philosophy in software: What’s the least I can do to get things working? A good solution is when you have nothing left to add or take away. I see code as a liability.

 

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